Nikolaus (Nik) Weis is the third generation of his family to manage the winery founded by his grandfather, Nicolaus Weis, in 1947. Hermann, Nik’s father, carried on the traditions established by founder Nicolaus increasing the winery’s acreage further and, today, Nik manages the winery’s 35 hectares (87 acres) in the Mosel and Saar Valleys and is responsible for overseeing operations and sales of this second largest privately owned family winery in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Nik has a degree in Viticulture and Enology from Geisenheim and has worked and studied in Champagne, Canada’s Niagara Peninsula and the Nahe in Germany. Nik works diligently to preserve the traditions of German winemaking and establish St. Urbans-Hof as a leader of innovation and quality in the region.
NC: How did you first become interested in wine?
NW: The first time I seriously tasted wine at our family winery at the age of 15 I liked the taste so much, that it was clear to me that I wanted to become a winemaker. Also, at the same time my sister started her education in restaurant business and I got some insight into fine dining for the first time. I loved those places, where fine wines were consumed. I still love everything about it. Later on I got started to travel wine regions and started to love the places where wine is produced. Today, besides my love for the making of wine, I also enjoy being in the wine business selling my wines and broadening the distribution. You get to meet a lot of people and that’s a great thing.
NC: Your wife, Daniela, and her family seem to be very much involved in the success of your wines. Were you in the industry before you met your wife?
NW: Yes, I had graduated from the winemaking university in Geisenheim and I had already worked at Weingut St.Urbans-Hof for 3 years, when I met Daniela. She was studying business at that time. Even though she is from a family wine business she had promised herself to never get married to a winemaker. She broke that promise! Thank God! After we got married and she had graduated from university with the degree of an MBA, she even purchased her own vineyards, which are part of the St. Urbans-Hof vineyard portfolio. Her father helps me to find good grapes for our URBAN Riesling. Part of them he supplies himself from his vineyards.
NC: The Mosel is one of the most iconic wine growing regions in the world. What is the most challenging aspect of growing high quality Riesling there?
NW: The great reputation of the Mosel is based on the top vineyard sites that are located on steep slopes and where the vines grow on a fantastic highly decomposed slate soil. Given the fact that the vineyards are extremely steep, we will never be able to compete with the production costs of other wine regions where viticulture is done on flat land. We only have two choices: Make the effort and practice an intense, expensive and thoughtful viticulture in order to achieve a wine quality that is so good and a wine style that is so unique that people are willing to pay a higher price for the wines and for all these efforts it takes to produce them, or we just let goats graze on the slopes and we produce goat cheese.
NC: I love your 10 Points Philosophy on your website! You reference keeping the Riesling grape’s path to the bottle as short and as undisturbed as possible. What do you think the key factors in this gentle path are during the vinification process?
NW: Wine is not made. It grows and develops. It’s a Genesis. It’s better to let nature take it’s course rather than interfere too much. You will hear this from a lot of winemakers, but I really mean it. If you do too much with your wine you either get components in it that are too much or you take things out that are going to be missing later on. Your wines gets out of balance. And the three most important things in a wine start with a “B”:
Balance, Balance and Balance!
NC: You also speak about “very gentle filtration.” What does that mean and how important do you feel this is to your wine quality?
NW: Gentle filtration for White Wines to me means either no filtration or in case of Mosel wines with a bit of natural residual sweetness it means filtering with filter pads made of cellulose. You have to use as many pads as your filter can take to keep the pressure down. In addition you got to water it really well in the beginning before you filter the wine. This way you get a very neutral, gentle and effective filtering process.
NC: How do you achieve the delicate balance between sweetness and acid in your wines? Do you wait for the yeast to stop the fermentation on their own or do you stop the fermentation through some other means to retain a balanced level of sugar?
NW: I just taste the wine while it is fermenting. I have one of the greatest Riesling cellar master in my cellar That there is. Together with him, I follow the development of the wines as they ferment. We both consult when there is the best moment to stop the fermentation. This decision is only done by our taste. Not by numbers. I don’t want to digitalize my winemaking decisions. When we think the wine has it’s perfect balance, it’s what we think perfect balance should be like. This is one aspect of the art of Mosel Wine Making. Sometimes the wine slows down or stops fermenting by itself, but usually we have to stop the fermentation by chilling it down and giving it it’s regular sulphur dose.
NC: Early in your career was there a single person who you felt was an important inspiration for your style or did you pull from multiple sources?
NW: Multiple sources:
The wines of JJ Prüm inspire me still today and so does Carl von Schubert of Maximin Grünhaus.
NC: Do you have a winemaking mistake in your past that you remember to this day?
NW: We all make mistakes. I have made a lot of them. You learn from those mistakes. Just to name a few: Too much skin contact, too much leaf thinning, too much of this and too much of that… It is never just one thing that makes a great wine.
NC: If you could share only one or two things with younger winemakers, what would be the most valuable pieces of knowledge or experience that you pass on?
NW: Taste as many wines from as many wine regions as possible. And taste as many famous wines as possible. There is a reason why they are so famous.
NC: Can you describe your philosophy on winemaking in haiku?
NW: Buy a great vineyard.
Work hard in it.
Don’t do too much in cellar.
NC: Are you working on any exciting projects now that you would like to share?
NW: Yes, my winemaker friend Martin Foradori from Weingut Hofstätter Tramin in Alto Adige and myself just invested in the most famous winery in Ockfen in the Saar Valley. It’s the Dr. Fischer Estate. Together with Johannes Fischer from the Fischer family we are giving this old traditional estate a new boost.